All posts by Helen McDonald

VOTES FOR WOMEN, WOMEN FOR VOTING!

“Women died for your right to vote!”

How many times have you heard someone yell that at any woman who expresses even mild disinterest in the General Election? Maybe you’ve yelled it yourself. It’s true, of course, women did die for other women to have the same voting rights as men. They were also imprisoned and force-fed. When the passive strategies of the suffragists had failed or were seen to be too slow, the suffragettes began disrupting Parliament and marching in costumes and pageantry. They ‘rushed’ Parliament, heckled and attacked MPs and the Prime Minister, broke windows and committed acts of arson. Emily Davison being crushed beneath the horse owned by King George V at the Epsom Derby was a tragedy in the midst of immense suffering endured by many lesser-known women, such as Mary Leigh, Lillian Lenton and Constance Lytton.

So, after all that, women better vote, right?

Wrong.   For over 9 million women at the last General Election, 1928 was a long time ago. That’s how many women didn’t vote in 2010 according to research conducted by the House of Commons Library. There’s been a downward trend in voting turnout for woman and men since 1992 but the decline is most pronounced for women and the gap between the numbers of men and women voting has widened. If all those women suddenly decided to vote, they could completely change the outcome of the General Election. But they probably won’t, even if Harriet Harman comes to see them in her pink bus.

Why aren’t women voting then?

Many women think that there’s no point in voting because there’s no-one worth voting for. This isn’t a particularly ‘female’ response, many people are disillusioned by the first past the post system and the proliferation of ‘safe-seats’ for career MPs, but when it comes to perusing the main parties’ manifestos, many issues that impact women are conspicuous in their absence.

Women’s life experiences are different to men’s. Not better or worse, not superior or inferior, just different. Women are more likely to be lone-parents, have part-time jobs, work in low-paid jobs and experience domestic abuse. These issues are often not given priority by the main political parties. Hopefully, not because they don’t care about women’s issues but probably because the predominantly white, male, privileged MPs just don’t think about those things. They don’t impact their day-to-day lives, they have very limited experience of those issues ever so why would they think there are problems that need addressing?

The behavior of male politicians and the mainstream media towards female politicians is an example of how some men in the main political parties do not appreciate how disrespectful their behavior is and how inappropriate the representations of women in the press are. When David Cameron told Angela Eagle to “calm down, dear”, when journalist Tom Newton Dunn criticized Stella Creasey MP for wearing a blue, PVC skirt in the House of Commons, when The Daily Mail comments on female MPs’ clothing choices as they walk down the “Downing Street catwalk”, all these things undermine women and reduce them to their parts, judged on their appearance and then belittled for expressing any point of view, even when it is their job to do so.

How can we expect a group of people who jeer and shout and heckle one another when they are supposed to be representing us to critique their own behavior and make changes? Maybe we can’t. That’s why we need more women to be engaged in politics at a local and national level. Research by Michele L. Swers at Harvard University found that American, female politicians were significantly more likely to vote in favour of policies that were related to women’s issues. In fact, the gender dimension overwhelmed all other variables, including party ideology. There are currently 502 male MPs and 148 female MPs, so the House of Commons is 77% male. That puts us behind Uganda, Sudan and Iraq in terms of gender equality in Parliament. In fact, there are more male MPs today than there have been female MPs ever.

If women are to become more engaged in the political process and start to vote in greater numbers, this needs to change. Women’s issues need to be given their due consideration and women need to be equally represented in local and national politics. The 50:50 Parliament petition asks for a debate on getting gender parity in Parliament, aiming for 50:50, women:men, like life.

This isn’t just something that would be nice to have for the ladies; it’s important, indeed, it’s crucial. In the UK, one in three women will be subjected to sexual or physical violence at the hands of a man during their lifetime and two women are killed by their current or ex partners every week, yet funding for refuges, Rape Crisis centres and all other support networks for women is under threat. It’s clear that the current system isn’t working out well for women. The number of women dying as a result of domestic violence hasn’t changed since 1996. What has to happen to make someone take notice? Women, that’s what has to happen. Women need to get involved, to vote, to participate in local politics, to take their local Council to task on issues of gender equality, to ensure their local MP has their needs firmly on the radar and to never stop demanding that they be heard. The suffragists and suffragettes achieved a great deal for women but they didn’t get it all so the fight must continue.

Women may have died for your right to vote but women will continue to die if you don’t use it.

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You wait ages for some Soup and then two come along at once . . .

Got a good idea that needs a bit of funding? Enjoy a bowl of soup every now and again? Fancy meeting lots of people doing good and decent things for their local community? Then Soup is just the thing for you!

The idea is simple: turn up and make a donation, listen to people pitch their ideas, eat some soup, vote for your favourite idea and watch the winner pocket the cash.

There were two Soups in Essex in March: Southend and Colchester. Essex Feminist Collective pitched at both. And failed at both. But ate soup at both so ‘s all good!

Southend Soup was help on Sunday 8th March which also happened to be International Women’s Day so Wonder Woman face-painting was the order of the day. Here’s Sherry, awesome Soup organiser, rocking the look. If you’ve never been in a room with 5 Wonder Women, a Spider Girl, two puppies and a tiger, it’s recommended.

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I was convinced the Essex Feminist Collective pitch was on to a winner until Hannah pitched her idea after me. If you’ve never been proper shown up by an 8 year old who has memorised her speech and wants to enable all children to embrace their unique selves, it’s recommended too. Add the other so-called members of your so-called Collective telling you that you don’t have a hope now and you’re good to go. See how people are straining too see Hannah? That’s how good she was.

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Though I wish I could brood moodily about it all, Hannah was definitely the worthy winner of the donations and she even carried out some feminist research for me during the break for soup. It’s good to know that, of the people surveyed, 86% think that men and women should be paid equally for doing the same job. Really, watch out for Hannah, I think she’ll take over the world one day and I for one plan to be on her side.

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All in all, a marvellous day was had by all. As well as humiliation, there was amazing vegan soup, magic, escapology and intense political debate!

You can see a full write up of Southend Soup here: https://southendsoup.wordpress.com/2015/03/13/march-15-soup-spicy-punk-magic-soup/

And you can find a swanky, professional write up of Colchester Soup here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31907546

Information about upcoming Soup events can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/SouthendSoup
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Colchestersoup/564077687025364

I whole-heartedly recommend getting some Essex Soup into your lives!

A bit of therapeutic ranting

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On Saturday, the Essex Feminist Collective had our first awareness raising stall at the Oyster Festival in Colchester’s Castle Park. Though we were prepared for people being mean (and had practised our responses in the car on the way there) it turned out that pretty much everyone was really lovely and those that weren’t were just silly. We had some excellent conversations with women and men alike and, on more than one occasion, were told to “keep up the good work”. Many people were understanding about why meetings are for women only and I even sold a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ badge to a teenage boy. It was all just so marvellous . . .
. . . so maybe I’d become lulled into a false sense of security that people are nice because away from the frivolities of Medieval jousting, the not-so-supportive comments have appeared and, quite frankly, I’ve got myself all cross about it.

The comment that’s really given me the absolutely ragin’ ‘ump is “surely there’s more important things to worry about than Page 3?” So, in the safety of this blog where no one will read it, here’s my response to all those people (because, unbelievably, there’s been *loads* of them!):

*deep breath*

1. I agree. There are lots of very, very nasty things out there in the world. And, yes, internet pornography is definitely one of them. Yep, so is female genital mutilation. Totally not keen on domestic violence and sexual exploitation either. We agree on these things. Hurrah! But, you know what? I’m not sure Castle Park on a Saturday afternoon in September is the place to emblazon my loathing of these things across a t-shirt. Call me old-fashioned (and terribly middle-class) but it just doesn’t seem like it’s the nice thing to do. Might put someone off their sausage and cider feast.

2. While we’re on the subject of internet pornography, and I really appreciate your faith in me and my chums with our vegan ginger biscuits and comedy badges, but I’m not sure we’re *quite* in a position to undermine global capitalism just yet. That little industry has a turn over more than Amazon, Google and loads of other big companies I can’t remember COMBINED. I know it seems strange that they’re not listening to a few opinionated Essex women but, I assure you, they just aren’t. (I think it’s something to do with the massive amounts of money they make from exploiting women and their connection to global technology corporation who rely upon porn-makers to make their new technologies a success, but I can’t say for sure.) And, for that reason, we support campaigns that focus on what I like to call ‘mini-goals’; things we can achieve (because, believe me, Page 3 is going). We’re taking baby steps towards bigger goals until we get to the point that the objectification of women in any form is considered unacceptable by everyone. But we can’t get there straight-away.

Oh, and now would probably be a good time to ask what it is *you’re* doing about the things you think are worse? I do struggle taking those comment from people who aren’t actively involved in changing things they don’t like. If you’ve got your own campaign you support then that is awesome and I salute you; together we can do it (whatever your ‘it’ happens to be)! It would probably be better, for the sake of solidarity and all that, not to dismiss *my* thing as not important though. There’s enough of us to do all the things, after all. If you’re not active in any way and you’re just being negative to make me feel sad with your bad vibes, then you can just shush, thank you very much. You are not part of my solution, my friend, and I did some campaigning training that said I can ignore you (apart from when I’m writing therapeutic blogs to you, obviously).

(If you feel like starting an anti-pornography campaign, may I suggest you read this? Gail Dines is ever so good. http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005OS3AJQ/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb )

3. My brain is a complex thing. It can hold lots of information. Sometimes too much and it keeps me awake in the small hours. Anyway, big brain = lots of space for lots of things, therefore, I can simultaneously care about Page 3, internet pornography, female genital mutilation, domestic violence AND sexual exploitation. You know what? Let’s throw in sexism in schools, street harassment, lad culture, unobtainable beauty standards, disordered eating, the gendered pay gap and whether Beyonce is a ‘real’ feminist too. I can do ALL of that. How do I know? ‘Cause I just wrote that list without even Googling anything or looking at my notes. It was all in my noggin’. And, for the record, I’m down with Bey.

4.a) Now comes the point where I’m going to stop being nice about this and just straight out tell you: “You, mate, are wrong. Getting rid of Page 3 *is* important. IT’S REALLY IMPORTANT” (important enough to be in capital letters). Remember when we agreed about internet porn all those numbered bullet points ago? Well, unless your local ASDA is different to mine, you can’t actually get any internet pornography there. What you can get though is a nice selection of paper based pornography. No, no, I don’t mean they’ve started stocking Razzle. I mean there’s actually a pile of it by the pre-packed sandwiches and carbonated beverages. Right there, for anyone to see. Even those people who don’t buy The Sun (you were going to tell me not to buy it if I don’t like it, amiright? Ha! Got there first). If you’re a responsible parent, you have filters on your home internet, you monitor your child’s mobile phone use and you have a chat every now and then about what they’re doing online at their friends’ houses. You can’t totally control what’s happening but you can have a good go. Well done, I think you’re a good parent. You know what you can’t have any control over at all? All those boobs in ASDA. And Sainsbury’s. And Tesco. And left on the bus. Or in Costa. Those boobs are a law unto themselves.

b) “So what?” you say “they’re just boobs, everyone likes boobs, they’re nice.” Hurrah, we’re back to agreeing again (temporarily); boobs are lovely. They do all sorts of marvellous things like feed babies and make the writing on too-tight t-shirts look weird. Go on, boobs! The problem is though, and here we are not agreeing once more, those boobs tend to be attached to a thinking, feeling, living person who is quite a lot more than a PhotoShopped set of mammary glands. She’s someone’s daughter, she might have done well in her exams in school, she might have been bullied for having those very boobs when she was too young to be considered worthy of them. Who knows? We don’t. Because The Sun doesn’t tell us. The Sun just says “look at the bangers on that” which makes it seem like she’s just those bangers and not anything else. That I just don’t like. It makes me feel funny, like a bit sad but a lot cross. I’d prefer it if that young woman could do something else to make money, something that means people ask “have you heard the problem solving abilities on her?”

c) Which brings me to the money question. Page 3 girls get paid. That’s generally how capitalism works (I say ‘generally’ but that is a whole other rant on a whole other subject on a whole other blog so let’s just go with it). I can’t say I know how much they get paid but I’m confident in saying that it probably seems like a lot for a few hours work but then wouldn’t sustain a person as a wage for very long. Page 3 isn’t the career it once was. No more of the likes of Sam Fox nowadays. I’m also confident in saying it isn’t going to be a plus on anyone’s CV. I feel like I want to be all crazy and say: “Hey, let’s have jobs for women where they get a decent wage, career opportunities if they want them and a gorgeous CV all whilst being fully clothed!”

d) Let’s end now (it’s almost over, promise) on the “it’s their choice” one, shall we? “It’s their choice. They choose to do Page 3. You’re trying to stop women doing what they want and that’s not a feminist attitude and you’re a Nazi”. Gosh! That escalated quickly. Let’s calm down and see what we’ve got here. OK, free choice. Now there’s an interesting premise. Are our choices really free? Are any of our choices free? Am I free to choose not to do the washing up? Yes, I am. Until I run out of forks then I have to do it again. Am I free to not go to work? Yes, I am. Until I get sacked for not showing up and lose my flat for not paying my mortgage and become homeless so can’t get another job. (Do not even mention benefit fraudster. Really. Let’s not fall out completely.) Am I free not to shave my female armpits? Yes, I am. But I’m repeatedly told it’s repulsive and asked what my boyfriend thinks about it because, apparently, I signed them and possibly my reproductive organs too, over to him though I have no recollection of it and I’m sure it can’t be legally binding. We’re free to do lots of things but all our choices are affected by the society we live in. When a young women ‘chooses’ to model for Page 3 she’s had a good few years of a society that only values women according to what they look like behind her. Why has she made that choice? Who knows? Maybe she needs the cash. Maybe she likes positive male attention and she knows she can get it from her boobs. Maybe she was convinced to do it when she only wanted to do clothed modelling. I’d love it if the Sun started telling me why the young women chose to do Page 3 along with all the other things I wanted to know about her. But I have a feeling it wouldn’t make good reading and might make me more sad and cross.

OK, I’m stopping now. And, I have to say, I feel so much better! Thank you mean people for making me blog. And thank you more lovely people of Colchester for being totally awesome on Saturday.

Here’s to many more meetings with the public and a few less rage inducing comments afterwards from people who weren’t even there to see how amazingly great it was!

In solidarity
Helen

UK Feminista Activist Mentoring

Last week I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the UK Feminista Activist Mentoring programme in Birmingham. One of our task was to create a ‘problem tree’ around our chosen issue. This is mine. The idea is to include root causes and effects (the leaves / branches) of your issue. I’d love to hear any input: things that are missing or just your point of view on the issue I’ve identified. (Helen)

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What are they selling, exactly?

(Helen)

There’s been a few adverts lately that have seemed to comment on  negative stereotyping of girls and women.  Now, I say seemed to because I’m not sure what they’re really trying to achieve here.

Some are pretty easy for me to just dislike.  The Pantene ad, for example, is all well and feminist until the final shots which, to me, undermine the whole message: “Destroy those pesky stereotypes that are holding you back . . . but make sure your hair looks nice while you do it”.

A couple of others are a bit more confusing though.  Have a look at these two adverts, one for Always sanitary products and the other for Verizon communications.  I like them.  Especially the girl in the pink dress in the Always ad who legs it across the screen.  But aren’t they still just selling us stuff?  

Do they really care about these issues or have they twigged on that being a bit feminist might sell their stuff?  Should that matter to me as long as the message is sort of getting out there to a wider audience?  It’s like the Spice Girls all over again: not my kind of feminism but if it gets young girls thinking about it who cares?

If you know of any other adverts like this, let me know, I do like to collect things!

 

#Not Buying It

There’s nothing I love more than a boycott but, at this rate, I won’t be able to shop anywhere.  That’ll show them multi-national, capitalist corporations.  

Comment below or post on the EFC Facebook page to add to the boycott list.  

 

Blue Inc.  For children?  This t-shirt is for children?!  

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UPDATE!  At least one other person is annoyed by this too.  So annoyed, they’ve made a petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/ban-blue-inc-t-shirts-from-stores?bucket&source=facebook-share-button&time=1402510508

 

Clinton Cards.  This is funny because ladies talk a lot and men find that really annoying.  Women, eh?  They don’t half go on.  My mate Carrie found this one.

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MoonPig.  This is funny because ladies are rubbish at driving.  So rubbish that they have less accidents and driving violations than men . . . . My mate Lynsey found this one.

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Burtons.  This one is totally acceptable because women’s heads are the least interesting thing about them so need to include that.  ‘Shoot’ and ‘Score’ are funny because they’re a bit like talking about sexy stuff; word play on a par with Oscar Wilde right there.  Elysia found this one.

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Recommended Reading List

For those of you with too much time on your hands, here’s a list of feminist / feminist themed books you may like to cast an eye over.  

Inclusion in the list doesn’t mean EFC endorse the ideas, views or opinions in the books and some are radical feminist texts so be warned!  

Any additions you can make will be gratefully received along with any thought you have on any of the texts.  (Helen)

CONTEMPORARY

Kat Banyard (2010) The Equality Illusion: The Truth About Women and Men Today

Laura Bates (2014) Everyday Sexism

Melissa Benn (2013) What Should We Tell Our Daughters?: The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female

Caitlin Moran (2011)How to be a Woman

Clarissa Pinkola Estes (2008) Women Who Run With the Wolves

Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune (2013) Reclaiming the F-Word: Feminism Today

Natasha Walter (2011) Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

Jessica Valenti (2007) Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters

Jessica Valenti (2008) He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know

COLLECTIONS

Kira Cochrane (ed) Women of the Revolution: 40 Years of Feminism (2012)

CLASSICS

Susan Brownmiller (1975) Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape

Judith Butler (1990) Gender Trouble

Angela Davis (1983) Women, Race and Class

Andrea Dworkin (1987) Intercourse

Susan Faludi (1991) Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women 

Shulamith Firestone (1970) The Dialectic of Sex

 Betty Friedan (1963) The Feminine Mystique

Germaine Greer (1970) The Female Eunuch

bell hooks (2000) Feminism is for Everybody

Audre Lorde (1984) Sister Outsider

Kate Millett (1970) Sexual Politics

Susie Orbach (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue

Joan Smith (1989) Misogynies: Reflections on Myths and Malice

Valerie Solanas (1967) SCUM Manifesto

Gloria Steinem (1983) Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellion

Naomi Wolf (1991) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women

WHERE IT ALL STARTED

Simone De Beauvoir (1949)The Second Sex

Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Virginia Woolf (1929) A Room of One’s Own 

NOVELS / FICTION

Margaret Atwood (1985) The Handmaid’s Tale

Angels Carter (1979) The Bloody Chamber

Kate Chopin (1899) The Awakening

Suzanne Collins (2008) The Hunger Games

Doris Lessing (1962) The Golden Notebook

Toni Morrison (1987) Beloved

Sylvia Plath (1963) The Bell Jar